Architecture of a tide-influenced river delta in the Frontier Formation of central Wyoming, USA

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Abstract

The Frewens sandstone is composed of two elongate tide-influenced sandstone bodies that are positioned directly above and slightly landward of a more wave-influenced lobate sandstone. The 20-km-long, 3-km-wide Frewens sandstone bodies coarsen upwards and fine away from their axes, have gradational bases and margins and have eroded tops abruptly overlain by marine shales. These sandstones are superbly exposed in large cliffs on the banks of the South Fork of the Powder River in central Wyoming, USA. The deposits change upwards from thinly interbedded sandstones and mudstones to metre-thick heterolithic cross-strata and, finally, to metres-thick sandstone-dominated cross-strata. There is abundant evidence for tidal modulation of depositional flows; however, palaeocurrents were strongly ebb-dominated and nearly parallel the trend of sandstone-body elongation. Detailed mapping of stratal geometry and facies across these exposures shows a complex internal architecture. Large-scale bedding units within sandstone bodies are defined by alternations in facies, bed thickness and the abundance of shales. Such bedsets are inclined (5°–15°) in walls oriented parallel to palaeoflow and gradually decrease in dip over hundreds of metres as they extend from the sandstone-dominated deposits higher in a sandstone body to muddier deposits lower in the body. Where viewed perpendicular to palaeoflow, bedsets are 100-metre-wide lenses that shingle off the sandstone-body axis towards its margins. The sandstone bodies are interpreted as sand ridge deposits formed on the shoreface of a tide-influenced river delta. Metres-thick cross-strata in the upper parts of sandstone bodies resemble deposits of bars (sandwaves) formed where tidal currents moved across shallows and the tops of tidal ridges. Heterolithic deposits lower in sandstone bodies record fluctuating currents caused by ebb and flood tides and varying river discharge. Erosion surfaces capping sandstone bodies record tidal ravinement. The tidal ridges were abandoned following transgression and covered with marine mud as waters deepened.

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